Islamabad. Next station stop is Islamabad.

dustbowlQatar Airlines has decided to invest millions of dollars to heighten awareness among the traveling public. That’s all well and good. But, guess where they’re investing a huge chunk of those dollars? New York’s Penn Station!

Yes, an airline that bills itself as a ‘Five-Star Airways’ is promoting itself in a one-star dive of a rail station.

The ads are literally everywhere:

– Wrapped around poles
– On staircases
– On the ceiling of the venerable hellhole

The copy features the names of such exotic travel destinations as Mumbai, Marrakesh and the Maldives. That’s nice, but harried Penn Station commuters are praying their trains to Matawan, Middletown and Massapequa are still running on time (or running at all).

Plus, why would one advertise an elite travel experience in the American transportation system’s answer to the Black Hole of Calcutta?

Were I managing Qatar Air’s considerable marketing budget, I’d run ads where well-heeled travelers will actually take note of them:

– Middle Eastern restaurants
– Fifth Avenue jewelry stores
– outside a Rolls Royce or Mercedes-Benz car dealership.

Qatar’s marketing decision tells me one of three things:

– They’re completely clueless.
– They’re not correctly interpreting market research findings.
– They have more money than god, and can afford to completely waste some of it.

This is yet another example of top down, inside out marketing think. No one working for Qatar’s in-house marketing department even bothered to put themselves in the Prada shoes of an upscale, global traveler to figure out where and when she wants to engage with travel providers. If they had, they’d most certainly know it is NOT in some dark, dank rat-infested alcove of Penn Station.

I’d go on, but I need to hop on the 3:48 to Kenilworth, where I’ll be connecting to the 5:15 to Lisbon which will continue on to Kuwait City. Or, maybe I’ll just decide to hop on the Marrakesh Express.

10 thoughts on “Islamabad. Next station stop is Islamabad.

  1. Qatar airlines buying space in Penn Station. Hmmm. My first job was at DDB Needham as a media planning assistant. I met Keith Reinhard my first week (whom I didn’t realize in my youth was such an ad industry icon). What do you do Keith asked. I’m a media planning assistant I said. Oh Keith replied. You’re in the creative department. No, I said, piping up, I’m in media planning. That’s right Keith said, you’re in the creative department. He continued. Look kid, you’ll be on the Dial soap account one day, and sales reps from People and Newsweek will ask you to buy space in their magazines because people who buy Dial are the same people who read those magazines. You can take their offer. Or, you can pick up the phone and find out who runs the NYC subway system (which had less advertising than graffiti back then) and offer to give them money to advertise deodorant soap on the ceilings. You’ll give them more money than they have now, less money than you give those national magazines, and you’ll get consumers’ attention where Dial matters. Because Keith said, the subways stink in every way! NYC taxis stink too by the way, he continued. Can’t you find a way to advertise Dial in yellow cabs? Ok I said. You’re in the creative department, he said, walking away. That’s a lesson that Qatar’s media buyer should learn. Just because the same consumers walk through Penn may fly Qatar doesn’t mean air travel is on their mind in NYC’s last dungeon. And, just because the ad salespeople at Penn Station call you doesn’t mean that’s where you should put your money. Penn Station is probably not where consumers are thinking about transcontinental, Middle Eastern travel.

  2. We still have an office in London, Savings Executive. Thank you very much. As for the Qatar Airways ads, they’re the antithesis of one-to-one marketing. As a result, they’re a complete wsate of money.

  3. Rep- I dont think you would be going to Cairo with them. But you do realize they fly to cites including london, tokyo and barcelona. and i am willing to bet a few egyptian pounds that these are cities that executives like yourself travel to. as a matter of fact, i think that pcomm once had an office in london! so now take a look at the big picture- they ran ads that captured your attention, you wrote about them, and got some new info on where they fly! who knows, you might even use them one day! in my humble opinion, that tells me that their ad campaign worked to perfection.

  4. Silly me. You’re right. As a well-healed NJT commuter, I must admit the Qatar Airways ads in Penn Station DID make me change my mind and decide to go to Cairo and Karachi this Spring.

  5. Rep- I have to disagree. Tens of thousands of people pass through penn station each day. Of that number, some are homeless, some are hourly workers and some are executives who bring home lots of bacon. And some of those executives have lots of extra bacon after year end bonuses and such. So Qatar is the first thing these folks see when they get to the city and might make them think about the airline or going away while at work and it’s also the last thing they remember as they sit on the train and call or text their spouse and say “honey, how about we spend some of that bacon and head to Baghdad for vacation”.

    And guess what- there was enough advertising to get you to notice and write about it!

  6. Point taken, Frank. But, warm weather ads for destinations such as the Bahamas would make a whole lot more sense than the Qatar Airways’ ones to Bahrain.

  7. I also wondered about those ads, but I gave them a little more credit for marketing warm and exotic locales in contrast to the weather outside Penn Station

  8. Love the taglines, Matt. American’s move reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which George tried to obtain a cheap air fare by telling the airline a close relative had died. They, too, wanted to see an official death notice.

    Here’s another suggested tagline: “American Airlines: Dead on arrival.”

  9. Speaking of clueless airlines, have you seen the news from American? They are latest airline to eliminate bereavement fares. Once a staple of the air travel industry, bereavement fares offer travelers discounts if a loved one dies or is very sick. (I know in some cases, the flyer actually has to produce a death certificate to obtain said discount.)

    So how much money is this really going to save American vs. the reputational hit AA is taking by appearing heartless and cruel? Sometimes, the bottom line is simply doing the right thing.

    On the other hand, this gives AA the chance to adopt a new tagline! Some suggestions:

    American Airlines: We’re dying for your business

    American Airlines: We hang onto every dollar like grim death.

    American Airlines: You’re cryin’ and we’re flyin’.

    American Airlines: Watch how low we can fly.